Customers of pet retailers like employees who are knowledgeable about the products they sell. What are the ingredients in this dog food? How is this cat food made? What should I be concerned about if I feed it to my pet?
That’s an understandable desire on the part of customers, but every pet retailer understands it can be difficult to maintain a full staff of well-trained and highly knowledgeable retail employees. Getting the information is difficult enough, let alone equipping your managers to train people who may or may not still be working for you in a few months.
The organizers of Petfood Forum, which occurs April 18-20 in Kansas City, Mo., have tried to at least make that first part easy, while also equipping attendees to effectively pass the information on to employees after the show.
“When you go into a store, if you have questions about what’s in a bag, you’re usually talking to someone who has no insight,” said Steve Akins, vice president and publisher at WATT Global Media, organizer of Petfood Forum. “So mid-level management has an opportunity to attend the industry’s only food-focused event on the technologies that go into the manufacture of pet foods. They can learn more about it and then possibly begin to train some of their employees.”
That, of course, is just one aspect of Petfood Forum, which has the larger mission of allowing attendees to learn about the latest research and innovative information on pet nutrition, global pet food market growth, pet food safety, processing, packaging and other issues from experts in the industry.
For retailers, the opportunity is to take employees from the point where they’re clueless about food questions to actually being able to pass along useful insight to customers.
“It’s structured so they can at least take a step in that direction and perhaps scout out more information,” Akins said. “The people who are presenters are always available for follow up discussions. We do make presentations available for download after the conference.”
That provides an opportunity for store managers, having attended the sessions, to share them with employees afterward and share the knowledge they gained. According to Akins, the offering fills a need in the industry because there is not a great deal of online learning available on the subject of pet food.
An entirely different challenge for pet retailers is making sure managers can effectively convey that training to employees sufficiently enough that the employees can answer customer questions, some of which are impossible to predict.
Retailer employees who only work on a part-time schedule have to be paid for the time they spend in training, and most are not hired with any sort of pre-existing expertise on pet food or other pet products.
They may also not be committed to a long-term career with a retailer, which means it is crucial for training to be efficient and effective.
Then again, the potential payoff is immense. Pet owners typically know little about the food they are buying apart from what they may see in ads. One product may put itself forth as the healthier option, or the one created using “science,” but what are the details to back up those claims, or potentially refute them?
The retailer that makes sure customers can walk in and get those questions answered by even the lowest-level employee offers a value-add that could make a difference in terms of cementing a long-term relationship with a customer.
Even if some employees leave the store, perhaps soon after receiving training, word gets around that the store is committed to training knowledgeable employees, and that reputation will usually outlast the occasional departure of an individual.
“I’m sure there are some, especially on the chain side, that already take advantage of some training that’s out there,” Akins said. “But by and large, if someone wants to know why a label is arranged the way it is, or just what they should buy for their dogs, people have no idea.”
Of course, most people who attend trade shows, while they are interested in education, are looking first and foremost to make inroads in the area of networking. Akins understands that well and encourages attendees to remember that the most valuable networking often goes on outside show hours and away from the official show venue.
“The show is very strong on the opportunity for networking interactions to occur at meals or receptions,” Akins said. “A lot of the trade show market is just, ‘Here’s my exhibit. Come see all the products available in the market.’ At Petfood Forum—while we have an exhibition and it’s important—people come here first of all for the networking. That’s what we get in reader surveys and attendee surveys; number two is education.”
Petfood Forum will be held at the Kansas City Convention Center from April 18 through April 20. Its hotel headquarters is the Downtown Kansas City Marriot. More information about the show, its agenda and its attendees is available at PetfoodForumEvents.com.